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Doctors, executives and others charged with health care fraud

Federal authorities recently announced that they have uncovered a $1.2 billion Medicare scam that targeted seniors and the disabled across the nation, including here in Michigan. Officials said 24 people have been arrested on federal health care fraud charges in what they described as a far-flung operation that included doctors, corporate executives and telemarketers working out of foreign call centers.

The Justice Department accuses the defendants of peddling orthopedic braces to seniors who did not need them. The doctors who allegedly participated wrote hundreds of thousands of prescriptions for unneeded back, wrist, knee and shoulder braces.

Officials said the alleged scheme involved illegal kickbacks and bribes in exchange for referrals by doctors and other medical professionals. Some of the defendants are accused of bribing the doctors to write prescriptions after brief phone conversations and without ever meeting or seeing the patients.

Medicare’s anti-fraud unit says it will take legal action against the more than 100 medical equipment companies allegedly involved. Together, the firms billed the federal program for $1.7 billion. More than $900 million was paid out, officials said.

The initial effort was by telemarketers in Latin America and the Philippines who would call seniors and others offering “free” braces. People receptive to the offer then had their Medicare coverage verified and were then transferred to telemedicine firms where the phone consultations with doctors were conducted.

The doctors then wrote prescriptions for orthopedic braces whether the person needed them or not.

Those charged by federal authorities with fraud or related crimes should decline to speak to investigators until they have spoken with an attorney experienced in white collar defense.

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